Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

Continue Reading...

Locke and Salazar undo damage to Endangered Species Act

It’s so refreshing to have a president whose administration sometimes produces good news below the radar. Earlier this week,

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke announced that the two departments are revoking an eleventh-hour Bush administration rule that undermined Endangered Species Act protections. Their decision requires federal agencies to once again consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before taking any action that may affect threatened or endangered species.

The Sierra Club’s Lay of the Land blog provides some background:

On its way out the door, the Bush administration bulldozed through rulemaking protocol and effectively eliminated Section 7 from the Act.  This is the section that mandates independent scientific review for any project proposed by a government agency.  By eliminating this section, the authority to determine how a project would effect an endangered species would be not in the hands of the expert biologists at US Fish and Wildlife or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but rather in the hands of those who are proposing the project.  So essentially the Department of Transportation would be able to determine if the highway that they really want to build would negatively impact any endangered species.

The Democratic-controlled Congress deserves some of the credit for restoring the Endangered Species Act, because the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill approved in February empowered Locke and Salazar to revoke the Bush administration’s rule change. In a Republican Congress, that kind of provision never would have made it into the omnibus bill.

Add this to your “elections have consequences” file.

The Sierra Club is calling for comments to Salazar thanking him for restoring the Endangered Species Act and urging him to withdraw another last-minute Bush administration rule:

As you know, another harmful and controversial rule was finalized in January which sought to limit protections given to Polar Bears under the Endangered Species Act.  This rule, designed to ensure that oil and gas drilling offshore could proceed in the polar bear’s fragile Arctic environment, limits the extent to which science and the full range of cumulative impacts to the polar bear and its habitat can even be considered.  

I hope that you will continue to value the role of science by also taking advantage of the opportunity to withdraw the controversial polar bear rule.

Click here to send an e-mail message to Salazar, which you can personalize if you like.

Continue Reading...

Open thread on Obama's 2010 budget and cabinet

President Barack Obama will present his first budget request to Congress today.

Early leaks indicate that he will propose some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans as well as some spending cuts to help pay for health care reform.

Ezra Klein, an excellent blogger on health care, is excited about what’s in the budget regarding health care reform. Although there is no detailed plan, Obama is submitting eight principles that should define health care reform efforts. Klein believes the principle of “universality” is likely to lead Congress to propose an individual mandate to hold health insurance.

I support mandated coverate only if there is a public plan that any American, regardless of age and income, can purchase as an alternative to private health insurance. The public plan would work like Medicare, in that individuals would be able to choose their own providers. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts model of mandatory private insurance without a meaningful public option has left a lot of problems unsolved.

It is not clear how much Obama will do to roll back George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I am with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others who would prefer to start rolling back tax cuts for the top 1 percent immediately. Last month the president seemed to be leaning toward letting those tax cuts expire over the next two years rather than fighting to repeal them this year.

According to Bloomberg,

President Barack Obama’s first budget request would provide as much as $750 billion in new aid to the financial industry […]

No wonder Obama went out of his way to make the case for helping banks during his address to Congress on Tuesday night. I firmly oppose shelling out another $750 billion toward this end, especially since the bailout money we’ve already spent hasn’t accomplished the stated goals of the program.

According to AFP, today’s budget proposal will include a plan

to raise money through a mandatory cap on greenhouse emissions.

Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag earlier estimated that a cap-and-trade scheme could generate 112 billion dollars by 2012, and up to 300 billion dollars a year by 2020.

Cap-and-trade may be more politically palatable, but a carbon tax may be a better approach for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

In cabinet-related news, have calculated that expanding the food-stamp program

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wasn’t the top choice of environmentalists, but I was pleased to read this post:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled oil shale development leases on Federal lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and announced that the Interior Department would first study the water, power and land-use issues surrounding the development oil shale.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary wants to review US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and told Congress that employers should be the focus of raids seeking to enforce immigration laws at workplaces. Obviously, swooping in and arresting a bunch of undocumented workers does nothing to address the root of the problem if employers are not forced to change their hiring practice.

Yesterday Obama named former Washington Governor Gary Locke as his latest choice to run the Commerce Department. Locke seems like a business-friendly Democrat, which is a big improvement over conservative Republican Judd Gregg, who thankfully withdrew his nomination for this post.

Republicans have been freaking out because of alleged plans by the Obama administration to “take control of the census.” Of course the GOP wants to continue the practices that have caused millions of white Americans to be double-counted in past censuses while millions more Americans in urban centers (largely non-whites) were not counted at all. Click here for more on the political battle over the census.

This thread is for any thoughts or comments about Obama’s cabinet or budget.

Continue Reading...

Solis (finally) confirmed as Labor Secretary

Senate Republicans finally gave up on obstructing Hilda Solis’ nomination as Secretary of Labor today, and the Senate easily confirmed her by an 80 to 17 vote. Chuck Grassley was among the 24 Republicans who voted to confirm Solis. Tom Harkin did not vote but clearly would have voted yes, along with all the other Democrats, had he been in the chamber.

Solis’ confirmation was tied up for weeks in committee after Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming put an anonymous hold on her nomination. Today even he voted yes, indicating that he had no solid grounds for blocking her from serving in the cabinet. I suspect Enzi was just trying to see whether he could trick Barack Obama into withdrawing her nomination as a gesture to Republicans.

Solis’s staunch longtime support for organized labor will make her a target for the right-wing noise machine, but who cares?

For more on why Solis is one of Obama’s best appointments so far, read this piece by Meteor Blades and this one by Paul Rosenberg, who notes,

People just loved talking about what a great political leader Hilda Solis is. I didn’t have nearly enough room to include all the good stuff that was said.

Calitics takes a first stab at handicapping the special election in California’s 32nd district, which Solis is vacating. It’s a safe Democratic seat but will have a competitive primary.

Obama has two cabinet positions left to fill. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius appears to be the leading candidate for Health and Human Services now, and former Washington Governor Gary Locke is reportedly Obama’s pick for Commerce.  

Continue Reading...
View More...